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Out standing in his field: Hamakua farmer Bill Beach, pictured in a patch of dry-land taro
Vol. 10, No. 1
February / March 2007

  >>   Art of the Warrior
  >>   A Road Less Taken
  >>   The Seed Savers

Communing With Chuck 

story by Sue Kiyabu
photo by Chris McDonough

Chuck Furuya sits at the center of a long table where about a dozen people—strangers to one another—have gathered. Platters of food arrive and wine is poured all around. Chuck jokes with the man across from him—groan-inducers like, “You know what your problem is? All you do is wine, wine, wine.”—then announces what’s on the table: crispy shrimp with Hau‘ula tomatoes, cauliflower purée, garlic chips, manchego cheese and torn basil, all paired with a 2005 Hugues de Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet. The food is eaten family-style, a tradition that, Furuya notes as we dig in, “is not just from the Mediterranean.”

Welcome to Chuck’s Communal Table, a once-a-month informal dinner at Vino Restaurant. On its surface, it’s a low-key party where people eat, drink and talk about wine. But Furuya, a partner in Vino, happens to be one of the country’s top wine experts, a master sommelier. So, stealthily, he educates. He doesn’t intend to. In fact, he announces early on that there will be no talk of wine ratings, fermentation temperatures and the like. But soon he’s discussing the merits of low-acid sourdough bread, explaining the growing climate of the Hau‘ula tomatoes, analyzing the attributes of the not-too-salty manchego cheese. No surprise, all three go great with wine.

So you eat and you learn. Currently, there are 124 master sommeliers in the world. Most won’t sit down to dinner with you. Certainly not every month—and certainly not for $39, which is what Vino charges for the four courses of food. But Furuya doesn’t want his table populated with sniffy, swirling snobs. He wants people to “gulp,” he says. “This wine is meant to be gulped, enjoyed with food, not sipped.”

When Furuya passed the master sommelier exam more than eighteen years ago, burgundy was sold in gallon jugs from the bottom of Hawai‘i’s supermarket shelves. Now there’s a greater sophistication about wine in the Islands, but no matter: At his table, Chuck’s more intent on celebration than education. So he keeps talking—and making bad jokes—as if all that matters is conviviality, good food … and, of course, good drink.

Chuck’s Communal Table
(808) 524-8466 or 533-4476